One of the hardest parts of being a new vegan (or even an old seasoned vegan) is trying to keep up with all the new products out there. I must have spent over $50 looking for the "right" vegan cheese my first year being a vegan and I have over 50 vegan/vegetarian cookbooks in my arsenal but not all the recipes are the greatest. I’m the first born so I’m used to being a Guinea Pig and now I’m your Vegan Guinea Pig. So here are my recommendations and critiques. Let me know what you think!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Toasting to the New Year with Gingered Champagne Cocktails

I can't believe 2010 is drawing to an end. This has been such an amazing year and I thank all of you for contributing to making it a joy for me. I've loved sharing reviews with you and thank you so much for your support of Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food which made Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations possible. I've got some amazing plans in store for next year that I hope you all will love. But for now, it's time to toast to the New Year!

The Gingered Champagne Cocktail from Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations (New Year's Eve Chapter) is how I have rung in the new year two years in a row. I'm an unashamed lover of vodka and there's nothing better than mixing a New Year's tradition with a Saturday night favorite.  Happy New Year to each and every one of you!!!!

Gingered Champagne Cocktail
Makes 8 cocktails

¼ cup candied ginger
One 8-ounce bottle ginger beer
½ cup vodka
One 750 ml bottle sweet sparkling wine or champagne

Divide candied ginger among eight Champagne glasses, Add 1 ounce ginger beer and 1 tablespoon vodka to each glass. Top off each glass with sparkling wine and serve.

Also Pictured Sweetheart Sangria from the Valentine's Day Chapter of Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sweet ‘N Spicy Curry Tofu by Moo Moo’s Frozen Meals

December of every year is my time to take a break from the kitchen, concentrate on finals and relax from the exhaustion of a year of writing, school work and regular good ole fashioned work. I usually end up eating everything out the freezer (which coincidentally helps clean the freezer) and it’s the perfect time of year to try out the latest in vegan frozen meals.

Moo Moo’s Vegetarian Cuisine has a couple of vegan options so I thought I’d give them a try. I’m growing more and more fond of curry so I thought the Sweet ‘N Spicy Curry Tofu would be the best one to try first. It’s not only vegan but gluten free as well, which is always a plus. Don’t get too excited though, all the pluses stop there. This had to be one of the singularly most disgusting things I have ever tasted in my life. It was a soft mushy mix of red cabbage, raisins, apples and pineapple. All these ingredients sound like the making of a delicious meal but put them together with whatever horrific spice blend Moo Moo’s came up with and you have a completely inedible dish. I made it through exactly two bites before I spit everything out, brushed and flossed my teeth to rid myself of the taste forever and threw the whole thing in the outside trash bin (because there’s no way I was going to keep this stuff in the house). I implore you, save your $5.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Tamales

These tamales are from my new book Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations. There’s no quick way to make tamales, but, as a California girl, there is no way I could open the Christmas season without them. In Mexico, Christmas and tamales go hand in hand, and in my hometown of Fresno, California, the same notion rings true. It simply isn’t Christmas without the tamales.

These tamales are also Soy Free and Gluten Free.

12 dried corn husks
2 cups masa harina
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup canola oil
1½ cups vegetable stock
1½ cups steamed fresh or frozen corn
1½ cups cooked black beans
1 whole roasted red pepper diced
1½ teaspoons sofrito
2¼ teaspoons Taco Seasoning

Soak the corn husks in warm water while you prepare masa and filling.
Combine the masa, salt, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Add the canola oil and mix with your hands. Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to mix with your hands or a large spoon, adding in stock until you have a consistency that you can spread with a knife.

Stir together the corn, black beans, red pepper, sofrito, and Taco Seasoning in a medium bowl. One at a time, shake excess water off corn husks and lay flat on your cooking surface.

Spread masa mixture evenly over the corn husks, working it with your hands if you need to. Spread a large spoonful of filling on top of the masa.

Fold the sides of the corn husk to the center over the masa so that they overlap, making sure that none of the filling leaks out. Fold the empty part of the husk under so that it rests against the side of the tamale with a seam.

Place the tamales in a steamer and cook for 40 to 45 minutes. The tamales are cooked when they separate easily from the corn husk

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best Whole Food's On Earth (or at least in Georgia)

There are at least ½ dozen Whole Food’s or Harry’s Market in the Atlanta area. But only one of them stands as the pantheon of vegan accessibility and that’s the Whole Food’s on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta, GA. Not only do they have the cheapest tofu in town but last year they expanded their hot bar section to include an extended vegan hot bar with at least 6 vegan entrĂ©e’s available at all times on the bar and 1 to 2 vegan entrees available at the deli counter for their Blue Plate special. 90% of the vegetables, legumes, and grains are also vegan friendly making it easy for you to grab a quick hot lunch with just about any type of vegan goodness you can imagine. 

The deli has my all time favorite deli item, mock chicken salad. This stuff is so good that it wasn’t a vegan who told me about it first but several of my omni friends. They ranted and raved about it so much that I had to try it. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. When I’m in a rush from time to time they have mock chicken salad sandwiches available pre-made across from the hot-bar which come in handy as a grab and go lunch. Even though the pre-made sandwiches are pricey, usually about $6. 

Vegan Pizza with Daiya
The Whole Food’s on Ponce has vegan pizza made with Daiya but this is the one item I do not trust. I’ve tried this pizza three times and each time I’ve had less than favorable GI symptoms afterward. Leading me to believe that there’s a hint of dairy in there somewhere, not likely intentionally put there but through cross-contamination since it is warmed in the same oven as dairy-laden pizza and it might be possible that the servers are cutting multiple pizzas with the same pizza cutter. Pizza is the only dish I have had this issue with, so for now I’m steering clear. I prefer my pizza without any type of cheese at all so getting a big plain pizza with tons of veggies on it is all I need. 

They’ve also just opened a new taco bar with fantastic vegan options like seitan asada and a full salsa bar with every type of salsa you can imagine and a few flavor vegan slaws.I’m a sucker for a good taco and couldn’t resist gettingtwo big tacos each with a different salsa brimming over with guacamole, cilantro and roasted corn. 

Next to the deli is the bakery with a bevy of homemade vegan breads fresh out the oven. I love Whole Food’s bread not only because it’s vegan and fresh but because it’s cheaper than mass-produced breads and has simple ingredients which yield amazing flavor, my favorite is the rosemary sourdough. A couple steps down from fresh-baked breads are trays and trays of vegan cookies (usually located on the first two shelves). From time to time they will also have vegan muffins (which I love) and vegan cupcakes (which I strongly dislike).  

BBQ Tofu, Vegan Mac & Cheese, Fresh Garden Salad
Over the last year I’ve run across a couple hot bar combination's so good I had to document them. Some of my personal favorites are the BBQ Tofu, fried plantains and Kahlou green beans; Fried chik’n tofu, spicy collard greens and vegan macaroni and cheese; panang curry tofu, brown rice and Thai salad and my favorite light dessert is their vegan mousse (on the salad bar) topped with granola. They have also recently added Daiya cheese to their salad bar. Eat up!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Restaurant Review: Sid's Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant (Stockbridge, GA)

I find myself in Stockbridge, GA at least four times a month and was thrilled when I heard there was a vegetarian restaurant in (what I consider) the middle of nowhere. I have to admit I was less than thrilled when I made four attempts, on a very hungry belly, to eat at Sid’s Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant only for it to be closed during regular business hours. I looked online to see if the restaurant was still open and, indeed, it was but I found a myriad of complaints mirroring my experience – the hours they are open are simply unpredictable.

Finally, on a whim, I decided to try Sid’s Gourmet one last time and miraculously they were open. I was greeted by a friendly smiling gentleman, who turned out to be Sid. He was happy to walk me through the vegan options on the menu. Unfortunately none of the “chicken” items are vegan but most of the “fish” and half of the “beef” items are. I’m not too wild about vegan fish and beef substitutes but I thought I’d give it a try – after all that is my job as the Vegan Guinea Pig! I had the option of blackened fish, crab cakes, fried shrimp, baked salmon, meatballs or vegan lasagna. I decided the crab cakes would be a good barometer of what this restaurant has to offer so I went with crab cakes with peas n’ rice and plantains on the side. Thankfully most of the side items are vegan.

Then the waiting game began. From the time my order was taken to the time I put the first bite of crab cake in my mouth it took over 20 minutes. I was in the middle of a workday and was hoping to be in and out within 30 minutes at the very most. However, one bite of the crab cake and it was all worth it. I was also thrilled that the crab cakes were homemade which completely made up for the time. I’m actually surprised they were able to whip up such delicious crab cakes from scratch, cook them and have them on the plate within 20 minutes. I know this sounds like a strange thing to be thrilled about but often times when you order mock meat they’re just may-wah or match meats cooked to order which is great but I could do the same thing at home. My excitement grew when I found out that the Sorrell (one of my favorite drinks in the world!) was made with agave nectar and not honey. A lot of vegetarian and even vegan restaurants will make their sorrel with honey which is bummer for me especially when agave nectar is such an easy substitute. I literally squealed for joy when I found out they used agave nectar which brought a couple odd looks but when I have ever been one to worry about a couple odd looks?

Despite the unpredictable hours and a bit of wait time I will be back at Sid’s the next time I’m in Stockbridge. Sid was so warm and inviting you couldn’t help but want to sit down and chat with him all day. It was almost like meeting a long-lost relative. If you’re in Stockbridge on the weekends keep in mind that Sid’s Gourmet closes before sunset on Friday and is closed on Saturdays. 

My Delicious Crab Cakes, Peas n' Rice and Plantains 
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